It’s Nothing. Really.

Denard Span
Image via Wikipedia

An example of talent coming from those hours of deliberate practice is Denard Span, hitter for the Minnesota Twins. He has an extraordinary on-base percentage, and he tells of the moment he became a great hitter:

“…there was no moment. There wasn’t a time when I thought, Oh, this is how you work the count. Oh, this is how you work for a walk. You just pick things up with experience, and then you pick up a few more things.”

It seems that becoming an elite performer is primarily about sticking to the PROCESS. You show up, put in the time, reflect on your daily performances both good and bad, correct what you can about the bad, get excited about the good and slowly, eventually, the talent grows. We want to think that it’s an overnight, flash-of-light arrival of our talent because we see that story in the movies and read the fast-forward progress of our favorite athletes in magazines. What is consistent and let’s face it, boring about these stories, is that it does take time to build the skills to elite talent. Our eagerness to be great NOW can be blamed to a certain level on the immediate gratification culture of the west.

Span has developed a strategy for his at bats that allows him to not over-think at the plate. From Joe Posnanski’s article in Sports Illustrated:

“…he has a stringent plan. He almost certainly will not swing at the first pitch. He almost certainly will not swing in hitter’s counts…He almost certainly will do everything he can to foul the ball off if it looks like the pitcher has dazzling stuff.”

When batters reach the elite level in the major leagues, the best ones have refined their talent so that they trust their intuition, their muscle memory, their body and stop thinking. George Brett, a pretty good hitter himself for the Kansas City Royals says:

“the perfect mental state for hitting is when the brain is completely blank. He often asks hitters what they’re thinking about when they’re on a hot streak. He gets great joy when they say – as they often do – “I was thinking about nothing.””

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